"Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek opens about his battle with pancreatic cancer and working through crippling pain in his first at-home television interview since he went public with his diagnosis, for "CBS Sunday Morning," to air May 12.
Trebek, 78, told the world on March 6 that he had been diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. He learned of the diagnosis while still in production on the hugely popular quiz show.
He tells "Sunday Morning" host Jane Pauley he found out he had cancer after telling his doctor about a pain in his stomach that wouldn't go away. Tests revealed a lump "the size of a small fist" inside of his abdomen, and then he was told it was stage four.
"Well, that just means it's spread to other places," Trebek said.
Early in his treatment, he suffered excruciating stomach cramps, both off- and on-camera. "This got really bad. I was on the floor writhing in pain. It went from a 3 to an 11. And I just couldn't believe, I didn't know what was happening. And it happened three or four times a day while we were taping. So, that was a little rough on me."
Trebek, who has appeared in nearly 8,000 episodes of the series, did not want to cancel production. "I taped the show and then I made it to the dressing room on one occasion, just barely, before I writhed in pain and cried in pain," he said. "And I had 15 minutes before the next show. So, I got myself together and spasms of that kind usually last about 10 to 15 minutes. So, all right, here we go again: 'Anybody got any pain pills?' And I don't like taking pain pills. But I got through it. And the producers were very kind. They said, 'Look, if you don't wanna do the show, we'll just cancel taping.' I said, 'No. We're here. We're doing the shows.'"
The treatment also required Trebek to wear a hairpiece during production. "And so what the challenge for 'Jeopardy!' viewers is right now is to figure out, 'Is that Alex's real hair or is that a full hairpiece?' Because they all know that when you start chemo, you lose your hair. So, which is it?"
Noticing Pauley checking out his hair, Trebek said, "This is not the real me. But on air I'm told that there were times when the hairpiece looked better than my real hair. So, we'll see how people react to that. We have the summer months off. So hopefully my own hair will grow back. 'Cause I like my own hair!"
"Sunday Morning," hosted by Jane Pauley, is broadcast on CBS Sundays beginning at 9:00 a.m. ET. Executive producer is Rand Morrison. "Sunday Morning" also streams on CBSN beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET and repeated at 1 p.m. ET, and is available on cbs.com, CBS All Access, and On Demand. You can also download the free "Sunday Morning" audio podcast at iTunes and at Play.it.
For more info:
- "Jeopardy!" (Official site)